This is Sophie. She’s an Aussie kid.
I often talk about Sophie in my workshops. I want to help make learning and the learning environment relevant to Sophie’s today and tomorrow. What do I mean by ‘relevant’? It means ‘appropriate to the current time, period, or circumstances’. For Sophie, it is looking at the opportunities, skills and knowledge, that will serve her education today, but will also provide meaning and a foundation for her future.
What do we know about Sophie?
Sophie was born in 2009. Wifi, social media and global connectedness are her everyday world. YouTube commenced in 2005, Twitter and Facebook, the year after. The smart phone generation was becoming mainstream, and Sophie and her peers think= about technology, wifi and the digital world about as much as they think about electricity.
Demographers tell us that Sophie represents the last of Generation Z, the description of those born from 1995 to 2009. They are currently 25% of the world’s population. In her book, Hello Gen Z, Claire Madden predicts one-in-two Gen Zs will graduate from university and Sophie’s generation will have five careers and 17 jobs across her lifetime.
How do we make education today relevant to Sophie’s tomorrow?
This year Sophie is in Grade 3, she will start high school in 2021, her last year of school is 2026 and presuming she is part of the one in two that graduate university, Sophie will start work in around 2030. The Economist recently released a report, “Fostering exploration and excellence in 21st century schools”. The report explored “how to best prepare primary and secondary school students for the 21st century workplace where a mix of hard and soft skills are crucial for success” (p.2), listing the core skills for the future, including:
- Critical thinking
- Values and ethics
- Capacity for lifelong learning
Employers are crying out for those skills,” says Neil Mercer, emeritus professor of education at the University of Cambridge. “They want good communicators, listening managers and effective team players—people who can come up with new ideas and share what they know.
Does Sophie need to wait until she starts work to develop these skills? The report also says what many of us already know:
The primary and secondary periods of schooling are when many of these literacies and skills are first acquired, as students socialise, grasp and begin to apply concepts and gain the ability to learn.
Therefore, a range of teaching strategies are needed, those that promote interaction, engagement and collaboration.
This means that Sophie’s teachers are no longer viewed as technicians who implement and deliver curriculum, but as designers of learning environments, who model these skills in their interactions with students.
So pre-service and ongoing professional learning for teachers must prepare and equip today’s and tomorrow’s teachers for today’s and tomorrow’s learners. The same principles that determine effective student learning needs to be embedded at the professional level – collaborative, active, inquiry or problem-focused and that professional learning is to be considered a life-long adventure.
The 2018 OECD publication, “Teachers as designers of learning environments: The importance of innovative pedagogies”, argues that innovative pedagogies are complex and that “A better understanding of innovative pedagogies is required in order to address contemporary education challenges and improve teachers’ professional competences” (p.13). The report says that these innovative pedagogies need to build on “the natural inclinations of learners towards play, creativity, collaboration and inquiry” (p.14).
What does this mean for Sophie?
At this point in time, curriculum content and delivery seem to be the main act, while the skills for the future are the supporting artist. We hope that the core skills for future success, known as ‘soft skills’ are gained, sometimes by osmosis, within the context of the hard skills of content and attainment, but what if we intentionally flipped that? As a community, can we see the soft skills as the main act, situated in the context of content that is designed to connect disciplines, rather than separate them.
I want to create professional learning that also builds on the natural inclinations of all learners, incorporating ‘play, creativity, collaboration and inquiry’. I believe that helping teachers experience learning and a learning environment that intentionally models the approaches that Sophie needs for success will translate into classroom practice.
Sophie is fictitious. She represents my focus, an avatar, when I’m working with educators and architects to reimagine the future of learning and learning environments. In the process, Sophie helps us to personalise our discussions and activities, she helps us to create empathy.
We all know real ‘Sophies’, young people facing a different future, who need us to take a fresh look at the experience of learning and redefine notions of success.